Democratic leader in House steps down

Washington NOV. 7. After serving the House of Representatives for eight years as the leader of the Democrats, Richard Gephardt is stepping down from the post in what is the first major fallout of the Congressional elections of Nov. 5.

Mr. Gephardt's decision has not been made official but apparently he has informed party leaders of his intention of not wanting to seek a fifth term as House Minority Leader. But the Missouri lawmaker has been quite plain about the outcome of the Congressional elections to the Democrats. "We didn't get to the goal line.

We didn't score the touchdown. I'm sorry about that, but I'm proud of what I did... I've come to the conclusion that it's time for someone else to take a crack'', Mr. Gephardt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He has long had ambitions to run for the White House and his intention to leave the post of Minority Leader could well be a part of that calculation.

Mr. Gephardt has been, on and off, in the fray for the party's nomination since 1988; but in 2000 set aside his personal ambitions to back the then Vice-President, Al Gore, and fully concentrate on getting Democratic control of the House.

Mr. Gephardt's decision to quit his current post does not mean that he is leaving the House.

But the move has clearly led to a scrambling of sorts within the party with at least two contenders right away making clear that they are after the job — Nancy Pelosi of California and Martin Frost of Texas, each making the "case'' of their strengths and suitability for the post.

If Mr. Gephardt's move was one of the things many were talking about in the aftermath of Nov. 5, it is unclear how the Democratic leadership in the Senate is going to be affected. Senator Tom Daschle will soon have to relinquish his Majority Leader status, but there is no immediate pressure on him for the post of the Minority Leader. Like Mr. Gephardt, the Senate Democratic leader has been extremely disappointed over what happened on Tuesday when Republicans took full control of Congress. Meanwhile, senior aides to the President, George W. Bush, are quite delighted at the turn of events but apparently on instructions, are not in a bragging mode.

The advisors to the President are said to be getting down to business, working on major domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Mr. Bush's hands have been definitely strengthened in the aftermath of Nov. 5 and this will reflect more in the realm of domestic policies and appointments.

For instance, the President has been at loggerheads with Senate Democrats on the Homeland Security Department over workers' rights; and during the campaign trail in the last several weeks, Mr. Bush pointedly raised the issue of his judicial nominees getting nowhere in the Senate. This is now a different ballgame.

As regards foreign policy, the Republican victory does not mean that Mr. Bush's hands vis-a-vis Iraq is strengthened or that war with Saddam Hussein is now imminent. What Nov. 5 has done in a general way is to strengthen the hands of hawks in the Republican party and put pressure more on the internationalists within it.

The assumption that the Republicans with 51 seats in the Senate can do "anything'' is quite exaggerated, and for two reasons: rules in that chamber being what they are, 60 Senators can block any legislation; and more important, the Grand Old Party knows the lessons of 1994 when arrogance of power handed the Democrats one more term at the White House in 1996.

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